When Phyllis and Michael Levy were growing up — Phyllis in Overbrook Park, Michael in Wilmington — Passover was a joyous family holiday. The Jewish celebration of freedom from Egyptian slavery was marked with prayer, meaningful discussion, and special and wonderful foods.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
After 42 years of marriage, Phyllis and Michael, along with their now-adult son and daughter, make this holiday a highlight of their year. They often celebrate with family and friends, carrying on the tradition of their late parents while adding their own special touches.
At the Levys' Voorhees home, their love and respect for Judaism is evident everywhere.
After they had outgrown a smaller home in Cherry Hill, the couple worked with a builder to design a dwelling that was truly theirs. "What we wanted," as Michael suggested, "was a home with an open, welcoming feeling. One we could really live in."
That's just what they got.
"Even though the basic footprint is of a center-hall Colonial," says Phyllis, "people are often surprised when we say that."
And no wonder. The home is an eclectic mix of styles, with a lot of contemporary features, and it all begins in the foyer. A rich, multi-toned Oriental rug, an antique chest, golden sponge-painted walls, and a contemporary staircase and balcony all happily coexist.
Downstairs, rooms are repositories for art and artifacts, some from travel, some from local art shows, most a reflection of Jewish life and themes.
Daughter Lauren, 33, a cantor at Beth David Reform Congregation in Gladwyne, and son Rob, 36, of Brooklyn, N.Y., share their parents' commitment to public service. Rob is managing director of the nonprofit Center for Financial Services Innovation, which aims to improve the quality of such services for low- to moderate-income Americans.
This is a family that opens not just its hearts but also its home to various causes. Despite demanding professional lives, the Levys somehow seem tireless.
Michael Levy, an oncologist with a specialty in palliative medicine, recently retired — he was a pioneer in the early hospice movement in the United States.
Phyllis has a background in corporate marketing at Campbell Soup Co. and is senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Rita's Franchise Co. She has been helping to launch Salaam Shalom, a coalition of Jewish and Muslim women in South Jersey that is part of a national movement with the goal of promoting mutual understanding.
Passover headquarters at the Levy home is the dining room — formal, but with room for whimsy. On the table will be the early Passover artwork of Lauren and Rob, all the more charming for its earnest innocence. Treasures including serving platters used by generations past will be prominent.
As always, the focus at the Levy seder will not be just on ancient history, but also on more modern Jewish travails. Case in point: a singular Passover Haggadah, the book that outlines the Seder service. Printed in Russian, it is a loving reminder of the family's commitment to help resettle Soviet Jews during a mass migration back in the 1970s.
"My brother and I feel so fortunate that we've grown up with a very broad view of our responsibility to others," says Lauren Levy.
The 16 to 18 Passover guests will ultimately spill into the family room, with its colorful contemporary furnishings and its abundant art, including a striking abstract fiber sculpture created by artist Smadar Livne. Another Livne work adorns the living room, a serene space in various shades of coral and blue. On a wall there hangs a haori, a traditional male Japanese kimono.
In the end, though, this is a home that celebrates much more than things. At Passover, especially, when issues of ancient oppression and, ultimately, freedom resound, the seder participants do not forget what matters most. It's summed up in a simple framed wall hanging with the title Birkat ha Bayit (Blessing for the Home). It reads:
Through this gate
No sorrow will enter
Through this entrance
No curse will come
Through this door
No fear will pass
In this family
No quarrel will appear
In this place will be
Blessing and Peace.